Assessing U.S. Troop Strength in Iraq

SHEILAH KAST, host: American forces under tremendous pressure in Iraq. Are there enough of them there to deal with the situation?

MICHAEL O’HANLON: Well, there’s certainly enough to do these big raids of the type we’re now preparing in Fallujah and carried out on a smaller scale recently in Samarra. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We can certainly do what we need to do. The question in those raids is more: Do we have good enough intelligence to actually attack a lot of these insurgents successfully, and can we do more good than harm by avoiding major civilian casualties? So on those raids, I think the answer is yes, we clearly have enough troops.

In the broader issue of policing Iraq and restoring stability, clearly over the last 18 months, there are times we have not had enough troops to do things like protect borders, protect ammunition depots, restore stability quickly after the invasion. At this point, however, I’m concerned that if we added more troops, it would reinforce the perception of an occupying America that is not there to help the Iraqis but is there for its own purposes to establish permanent bases, to get favorable terms for Iraq oil. In other words, reinforcing all the conspiracy theories and all the misperceptions that are so prevalent among Iraqis today and that are helping insurgents recruit. So even though in one sense we maybe need more troops in a technical way, I’m not sure we have the political luxury any more in the context of current Iraq.

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